Are the Anaheim Ducks All of a Sudden Dark-Horse Stanley Cup Contenders?

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Are the Anaheim Ducks All of a Sudden Dark-Horse Stanley Cup Contenders?
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

For the first half of the NHL season, the Anaheim Ducks were a shoo-in as the league’s most disappointing team. After pushing their way to the Western Conference Final a year ago, the Ducks floundered out of the gate, falling so far behind the rest of the league that even in the weak Pacific Division they still find themselves outside the playoff picture.

That poor performance has obscured an absolutely stunning performance from the team since November 1.

Anaheim Ducks by Month
Month October November December January
Record 1-7-2 8-4-3 6-4-1 7-3-1
Goal Diff. -17 3 -5 9
5v5 SA Fenwick 46.5% (27th) 54.5% (3rd) 57.0% (T-1st) 57.2% (1st)

NHL.com, Puck On Net

The Ducks’ record and goal differential are self-explanatory, but it is the bottom row on the chart above that should be of particular interest.

Score-adjusted Fenwick, at least in my view, is the gold standard of shot metrics. It rewards teams for being good at blocking shots and getting their shots through, because it includes shots and missed shots but excludes blocked shots. It doesn’t penalize them for playing with the lead because it incorporates score effects (teams with the lead often see their share of shots fall; the reverse is true of teams trailing).

By that metric, the Ducks have authored a remarkable turnaround, going from being one of the worst teams in hockey to start the year to literally first place in the NHL over the last two months.

Shot metrics aren’t the be-all and end-all of hockey analysis, but spending as much time as possible in the opposition’s end of the rink is a very good place to start, and the Ducks have that down after struggling with it early. There are other good signs, too.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry

At its best, Anaheim has one of the top offensive duos in the league anchoring its top line. Corey Perry has a 50-goal season and a Hart Trophy under his belt, while Ryan Getzlaf was the runner-up for the award in 2013-14. Both were mired in a terrible funk to start the year, combining just four points in 18 games. Since the end of October, however, the two have rebounded significantly:

  • Perry: 37 games, 20 goals, 10 assists, 30 points
  • Getzlaf: 35 games, 3 goals, 27 assists, 30 points

Both Perry’s assist rate and Getzlaf’s goal rate are likely to improve dramatically if the latter can start finish some of his shots. He’s a career 12.0 percent shooter and is firing at just a 3.5 percent clip this season. His shot rates are down a bit, but we’d normally expect him to have 10 goals based on his shot totals and instead he’s stuck at just three.

The duo has been split up recently to give the Ducks more balanced scoring, and Anaheim is 3-0 with them on separate lines. That may not last, but in concert with the Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg pairing on the third line, it has given the Ducks the ability to create matchup problems for the opposition.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
David Perron has been excellent since arriving in a trade from Pittsburgh.

Newcomer David Perron helps, too. He’s been given a spot on the top line with Getzlaf and Chris Stewart and has picked up at least one point in each of the four games he’s played with Anaheim. The Ducks could still use an infusion of offence, but if Perron’s rejuvenation holds and Patrick Maroon and Andrew Cogliano (both well below their career shooting percentages this year) can start finishing their chances, the Ducks could be considerably better off up front.

The Ducks also have considerable strength on the back end, both defensively and in net.

On the blue line, the return of Simon Despres and the recent successful audition of rookie Shea Theodore (13 games, six points, 18:31 average ice time) give Anaheim almost unparalleled depth with eight legitimate top-six options.

Pending restricted free-agent Sami Vatanen is often seen as a logical trade target, but the Ducks’ real depth is on the left side, where between Despres, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Clayton Stoner, they have five good players.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
John Gibson, seen here at the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, has seized the starting role in Anaheim.

John Gibson seems to have taken over the starting role in net, capitalizing on a bad couple of months from incumbent Frederik Andersen. Both players are plausible No. 1 goaltenders in the present. Andersen has a .917 save percentage on the season, while the 22-year-old Gibson has gone 11-7-2 with a .923 save percentage. The Ducks have tried to be patient with the latter, but he's forced his way up the depth chart far more quickly than could be reasonably expected. 

Just for good measure, the Ducks have veteran Anton Khudobin (seven games, 3-3-0, .908 save percentage) waiting in the wings.

At this point, the only thing separating the Ducks from being recognized as a contender is their poor start to the year and a lack of secondary scoring. This is a good puck possession team, a club with high-end talent at every position and a squad with significant depth in net and on the blue line.

It’s a legitimate contender, particularly if general manager Bob Murray is able to parlay some of his defensive depth into offensive skill at the trade deadline.

Statistics courtesy of NHL.comStats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Puck On Net and NaturalStatTrick.com.

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

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